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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More Musings From an Indie Author

I'm an eternal student.  I can see me with seven degrees--given the funds--which would have possibly detoured my career as a novelist. Therefore, I'm very happy that I was not swayed from my true purpose. But I can still study those seven main loves of mine.

In fact, as an author, research is very much a part of the job.  And I get to choose which topics.  Believe me, I will need multiple lifetimes to pursue my self-study of the many subjects that interest me.  And thoroughly enjoy the process with each project.

So, my recent readings have brought to focus two things that I keep feeling this insistent nudging to share with fellow authors.  Hope this helps someone out there.

Memorable Characters

Now, whether they are remembered for a lifetime or just a few haunting days after reading a novel to The End, I cannot guarantee.  But please share with us, if you have the "forever" formula!

My take here is more narrowed.  I am focusing on the "memorable" part.  From the get-go.  With the initial intro of your character to your reader.  I have based my inklings of it on my own law of three:  it takes three different elements to memorize a list (or make a character memorable).

I learned this from Daddy on long car trips to visit the grandparents each summer.  He and I would be the only ones awake at 4:00 a.m. while he drove and the others slept, so we'd play the memory game.

I'd make a list of about twenty items and tell Daddy number one was water and so on throughout number twenty.  With each pairing, he took about three minutes to memorize it.  Once completed, I'd randomly pick either numbers or nouns and he would give me the number for the noun or the noun for the number.  Quite amazing.

Come to find out, he had a "master" list memorized.  So he already had a number one item, but when I gave him my newly chosen number one item, he would match up the two into some unusual combination so his mind would remember the association.

This is a lame example but his master list may have the initial item as being "fork" and my first word on my list is "butterfly."  Maybe instead of pinning your butterfly to a board like a naturalist would, we would reach for one huge salad fork instead.  Therefore an absurd match has been made (both alpha and numeric, and quite visually too) and hopefully because of that, we can retrieve the vision later--whether via "one" or "butterfly."

Kind of weird to memorize one list to help with another, but still I see the advantages.  You can take all the time you want to memorize the master list--a year, a decade.  But when you play the memory game, you only have about three minutes to deeply seat that new word in your mind.  So it helps to have this "anchor" already there in your brain.

I relayed the above to make this point:  We all have anchors.  Say "Marilyn Monroe" and I bet the visual image of her in a white dress standing atop an air-shaft grate causing her skirt to rise flashes in our memories.

I'd much prefer a Marilyn Monroe lookalike as a description of my heroine since I am so adverse to the "police blotter" character descriptions--5'6", blonde/blue, Caucasian female--showing up in novels.  Unless it truly is from a police blotter in a whodunit.

So I'm always looking for ways to picture my character to my reader without the obvious, hackneyed rhetoric.  Back to Marilyn Monroe, we could always show our female lead as blonde bombshell pin-up material.  The only fault I find with that is it dates our writing.  With Marilyn, however, we are probably okay as she is "eternal" like the Mona Lisa or Eve in the Garden of Eden.

But if you are considering "linking" your main character (MC) to an actor now part of the latest and newest TV series--that may or may not make it to Season Two--you might want to rethink your association for one of your main characters.  Make it a more long-term character, like Scarlett O'Hara or Elizabeth Bennett over your fave daytime actress, IMO.

Or in another eventuality, what if you are writing a sweet romance novel (no sex, just kissing, and that at the very end), and you have your leading man associated with a well-known public figure.  Only to find out, two days after your book releases, that he is caught in a huge sex scandal, with X-rated photos all over the Net.

Just saying . . . 

Back to the law of three.  To make your hero or heroine "congeal" for your reader, give them three points of info right out of the starting gate.  Be judicious about your selection.  Besides their name (which is another post--but don't give a ditsy-sounding name to a librarian and vice versa), and some idea of their age/sex/looks, we need a third point.

I know in my online communities I usually go with "I'm a RomSus Indie-pubbed author, Denise from Dallas."  Yes, I know, there is that porn movie Debbie Does . . . and, although not my genre, if the humor (and absurdity) of it makes for a few laughs and gets me embedded in someone's mind, then it has served its purpose.

Just what we should do with our main characters in our books.

Not that we can't lavish this detail on our minor characters.  Think Serge in one of the Beverly Hills Cop movies.  Bronson Pinchot was priceless in this small, short scene.  And from what I understand, he found this obscure accent to incorporate that helped round out an otherwise two-dimensional bit part.

Plus, I'm among fellow authors here and we have been known to say more outrageous things than anything shared above.  You know what I am talking about.  You and your writing buddies are at an overflowing restaurant talking about your latest novel.  The dinner conversation could entail one or all of the following:  "Would a severed head float?" followed by "Why not just poison him?" with an added thought of "Make it a threesome in bed so you have more suspects."

See what I mean?

The nearby diners will probably remember y'all for a long time . . . .

The Eight Archetypes

I read in one rendition where we have all eight types within us, which is an intriguing thought.  For review, here they are with a corresponding example from Star Wars:

Protagonist (Luke Skywalker), Antagonist (the Empire), Contagonist (Darth Vader), Guardian/Mentor (Obi-Wan), Sidekicks (R2D2 + C3PO), Skeptic (Hans Solo), Emotion (Chewbacca), Reason (Princess Leia).

If we do house the complete range of types, then that explains why in one situation we act like Hans Solo while in another like Obi-Wan.  Maybe we should cut ourselves and others some slack just for this reason alone.

Plus this makes logical sense as to why authors write in many genres.  After all, we may have the complete set "in us."  Awesome, right?  

We could engage our Chewbacca and write an epic drama.  

We could channel our Luke Skywalker and create a rousing adventure story.  

We might imagine a book completely from the evil villain's POV.  A thriller, a horror, a black comedy/fantasy.  

If we are riding along with Hans Solo (put on your seat belt or, better yet, get him away from the controls!), it could encourage a humorous escapism book, an action/adventure.  

With our Guardian/Mentor on board, we might lean more toward instructional nonfiction, a How-To book, or a textbook, a resource manual.  There again, we could convert it to fiction and still use it as a teaching tool, whether for children or adults.

If we focus on our sidekicks, it could end up being a coming-of-age story, or a midlife crisis drama.

Oh, and the contagonist, such as Darth Vader.  What a red herring for our mysteries or police dramas.

Let's not forget Princess Leia.  "Bad things can happen to good people" comes to mind.  But she wins out in the end, right?  So a success story could be written in novel form, or a bio of a real-life person.  Or maybe Jane finds out "all work without play" makes her and her life boring.  So you pen a love story where the heroine grows and evolves and finds a man to spent eternity with.  

You may have your own plot variances, but that is just it.  Keep those minds churning and your imagination actively engaged.  

And have fun!  We are authors.  We chose this career as much as it chose us.  This is our goal in life.  So enjoy the process . . . as well as each completed book.  Not many people can say, "I finished a book.  A real one with a plot and interesting characters."  And even fewer individuals can honestly and proudly boast, "I've written my third/thirtieth/one-hundred-and-thirtieth novel."  

Go for it!

Denise Barker, author + freelance copy editor
Good Ole Boys, a love story
A Copyediting Checklist for Novelists

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